They did it again. The New York Rangers freakin' did it again.
After falling behind 3-1 in the series for the second straight year, the Rangers found a way to mount the improbable comeback once again, and defeated the Washington Capitals 2-1 in Game 7. I tweeted this out a few minutes after Derek Stepan sent the Capitals packing, and it's worth saying again. I absolutely hate the stress that comes with overtime, in a Game 7 no less, but man, nothing compares to an overtime victory. Nothing.
Honestly, if I didn't see the replay, I'm not even sure I could describe the play that lead to the game winning goal. It was a complete blur at the time, followed by pure excitement. Just when everything looked bleak after Game 4, three games later and the Rangers are on their way to their third Conference Final appearance in the last four seasons. It's just amazing what this team has accomplished this season, and they'll have another crack at it starting Saturday afternoon.
Henrik Lundqvist was the big story heading into this game, aside from Alex Ovechkin's silly "guarantee", and boy did Lundqvist respond accordingly. With tonight's win, Lundqvist picked up his sixth career win in Game 7's, and gave the Rangers every chance to put this game away. However, the Rangers didn't have the greatest of starts to this game, and found themselves a step behind the Capitals in the early going.
With tons of pressure building up as the clock ticked down, Alex Ovechkin finally broke the ice at the 12:50 mark of the first period. The play started with a face-off loss in the offensive zone, and the Rangers were an absolute mess from that point on. That led to Ovechkin finding some open ice on the far side of the ice, and Marcus Johansson fed him with a beautiful saucer pass.
Ovechkin had plenty of time to work with, and ripped a hard shot off of Lundvist's glove to give the Capitals the late 1-0 lead. Things were definitely tense coming out of the intermission, but the Rangers were able to relieve some of that tension just six minutes into the second period. After their first failed power play in the first minute of the period, Kevin Hayes knotted things up just as Mike Green's second minor was coming to a close.
J.T. Miller gets all of the praise for this goal as he swung off of the boards, and found Hayes cutting in all alone on the backdoor. Miller was able to place the puck perfectly between two sticks in the slot, and Hayes tapped the puck into the empty net for the game tying goal. It was a huge momentum shift for the Rangers and it couldn't have come at a better time.
About two minutes after tying things up, the Rangers went to work on the penalty kill after Jesper Fast took a tripping penalty. They were able to kill it off rather efficiently, but unfortunately, the next goal in this game wouldn't come until the 11:24 mark of the first overtime. Derek Stepan started it all off by winning the face-off, and Keith Yandle worked the puck over to Dan Girardi for the point shot. Holtby was unable to collect the rebound, which left the puck sitting right in the high slot for Stepan to pick up.
At that point, Holtby was in full desperation move on his backside, and Stepan ripped it over his shoulder to send the Rangers to the Eastern Conference Final. Game 1 is scheduled to kick off on Saturday afternoon at 1:00 PM against the Tampa Bay Lightning.